Zap, Pow, Bam

Those words exploded on the screen of my youth (and maybe yours, too) during the famously cheesy fight scenes in the Batman TV series. I loved them. Their primal colors and expanding letters syncing with horn blares, punctuating the show with such onomatopoetic pleasure – who could resist? It was the psychedelic 60’s on the heels of the afrofuturism that began in the 50’s, and the art and streets were in full rebellion against, well, you name it.

This is an oversimplification, of course, times and people being what they are — complicated and variable. Besides, I didn’t know any of that then. Heck, I wasn’t even born when the episode at the bottom of this post first aired. But I am looking back on those scenes, overlaying them with colorized scrims of meaning for myself.

Why am I doing this? Because I’ve been ruminating on small packages of words that convey a lot with a little. In a word, I’m thinking about FLASH. Also known as sudden, micro, mini, prose poem and hybrid, flash pieces are writing of up to about 1500 words. We might think of them as works that make their own small screens and then fill them. My first book, (made), is a concatenated collection of such writing. Bhanu Kapil called it a “magical dictionary….It’s not trajectory. It’s not narrative. It’s vibration.” (Thanks, Bhanu!)

In these shorter works, the words do extra work. They do vibrate together. And so we must pay extra attention to how they are fitting together. And yet, we can also shoot out of the cannon without worrying we will fall to the ground before hitting our target because we do not have to go as far as we do in the short story or essay or novella or, god forbid, the book. So much possibility in brevity! Which isn’t to say that we need to think of truncating our expression; hardly. We can think of it as an explosion onto the page.

That’s one way, anyway. I also adore flash that sneaks up on me. Or quietly and kaleidoscopically turns around its subject creating prisms on the walls in the room in which I’m reading. There are so many modes for making in this form. I’m back to working on a few of them of late as helpmates to the multimedia novel I’ve been writing for a handful of years now. They serve to give me a sense of completion while I spend the majority of my days with the sense of leaving everything unfinished each time I shut down my computer.

And so I decided to share my process. To that end, I’ve created a Flash Writing workshop for Writing Workshops Dallas. Come write with me! You can respond in fiction or CNF (creative non-fiction). It’s online so you can join in from anywhere. We will read, write, critique, and discuss these gems and also cover avenues for publishing. A one-on-one consultation with me on your work is included.

All the details are here at Writing Workshops Dallas.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Writing Bravely

I’ve heard it said that white is a color. Meaning, we need to rethink the fact that if race is not named in a story, it’s assumed the writer and the characters are white. But if the character is a person of color, then that color is named, right? Why not name whiteness so that it, too, can be examined rather than operate as the water we swim in?

I am white, and in my latest book-length work I have called that out. I am attempting to write what whiteness is for me, among many other things. It’s tricky because it also means that I might be centering the white experience. In fact, I am. Well, my white experience. Also, my female experience. Also a writer’s. A Leftie. An Emma Goldman fanatic. A pb&j eater. Bleeding heart animal lover. Joke teller. Raconteur! Okay, you get the picture (or a picture, anyway).

Is this a brave act, confronting race as a white person? I don’t know. But I want to pivot here to an amazing interview with Tiphanie Yanique by Namrata Poddar at Kweli Journal that digs into race and its role in storytelling, also among other things.

“The first thing I tell my students is that they must write bravely. That means writing towards the things that most make you uncomfortable—and part of why that is brave is mostly because it’s not easy.  Brave writing means failing a lot of the time—even when writing well, there will be failures in the work.”

Are you willing to fail? Are you willing to take on that which makes you uncomfortable? Either way, please do read the full interview. It is rich with insight and will urge you toward writing what you’re afraid of.

tiphanie yanique
Tiphanie Yanique

Don’t Be Afraid to Suck

I’m working on a piece for Grub Street on how to stay motivated while working on a long term creative project — in my case, a novel. That, too, isn’t happening overnight, but it’s coming. Meantime, for your viewing and #MondayMotivation pleasure, here’s Junot Diaz on developing a tolerance for imperfection in your own writing. It’s three minutes well worth watching.

Reading and Writing Weather

As I write this, the snow is bombing the East Coast where I live. My cat is curled up in my lap, positioned in the beneficent path of the space heater at my feet. Slate coated juncos, black capped chickadees, yellow bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves, and (of course) gray and red squirrels are swarming the seed in the feeder – in this bluster! The wind is whipping the snow as if it was snapping bed linens outside my window. It’s extreme out there, folks.

Fortunately, I have lots to read. I’m loaded up with books by Italo Calvino, Rivka Galchen, Emma Goldman, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, while eagerly awaiting Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters to come in. I just came across her earlier this week and can’t believe I didn’t know of her sooner. Actually, scratch that. It is not surprising that as an African American woman she’d been slighted by many a syllabus. Herenow, I assign you this story. Then snatch up every last thing she’s written, and we’ll compare notes. (I’m not  kidding – let me know what you think.)

Also keeping me warm are client manuscripts. This winter, I’ve been working with short story writers, sketch comedians, poets, novelists, and a doctor working on a nonfiction book that promises to explode the way we think about a major component of healthcare. I love how helping other writers to make their work better also helps me to do the good work on my own.

Speaking of which, I’m excited to tell you that I just found out Junot Diaz took ten years to write The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I’m clocking in at roughly four at this point, so I’m in pretty good stead. Not four continuous years, mind you (I took a year off to fight a casino), but no kidding the seed of the project first came in 2012. It has transformed so remarkably with each round of revision that I have made peace, for the most part, with the time it is taking to bring this book to fruition.

Off to make a fire!

books, Italo Calvino, Rivka Galchen



Revise, revise, revise

Novelist William Gass passed away last week at the age of 93. He was beloved, or so it seems his novels were if the paeans to him on Twitter are to be believed. I confess I’d not only not read him, but not heard of him (that I recall) until his death. He’d probably hate me for that, but then he’d get some writing out of it so I’m not too worried.

What I have now read – or skimmed, to be honest – are some of the posts of aggregated quotes from Gass on writing. I will add at least one of his novels to my ever-expanding to be read list, and maybe you might, too. Meantime, these two passages (as compiled at LitHub) are keepers:

“Something gets on paper, and then it gets revised, and then it gets revised, and then it gets revised. And then I’m finally at the end.”

—from a 2005 interview with The Believer.

“I write slowly because I write badly. I have to rewrite everything many, many times just to achieve mediocrity. Time can give you a good critical perspective, and I often have to go slow so that I can look back on what sort of botch of things I made three months ago. Much of the stuff which I will finally publish, with all its flaws, as if it had been dashed off with a felt pen, will have begun eight or more years earlier, and worried and slowly chewed on and left for dead many times in the interim.”

—from a 1976 interview with The Paris Review.

There are no shortcuts in writing, much as I’d love cash and prizes for my first drafts. So I am posting these two as fuel. Reminders. Notes to self as I continue the work of revision on my current manuscript. The story of that story is a long one, and I cannot wait to tell you all about it. And I will. Soon as it’s finished. Thanks, Bill. He wouldn’t mind me calling him that, do you think?


2 Readings & A Workshop

Speaking truth to power. I don’t know if Sage College audiences are indeed the power I’d shake a fist at, but that is the theme of The REV Presents reading series this fall at their Troy, NY campus. Asked by beloved poet and friend Matt Klane, I’ll be reading with also beloved poet and friend Sueyeun Juliette Lee on Thursday, September 28.

Exactly one week later, I’ll be joined by former participants in the poetry class I led at Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility, Sean Dalpiaz and Johnny Perez, for a Poetry Lab at Skidmore College. This event is in conjunction with the States of Incarceration exhibit that has been touring college campuses across the US for the past year or two. It’s up at Skidmore’s Tang Museum this fall and features images from McGregor as well as lots of visual and experiential representations of the the US prison system. On October 5, Johnny, Sean, and I will be talking about and reading work from the class.

Exactly one week after that, the Writing Creatively class begins October 12 at The Arts Center in Troy. I love leading this class and being in a room with writers talking, reading, writing, and responding to each others’ work. As I say in the course description, writing well takes practice. This eight week class is an opportunity to practice the craft.

(There is another workshop this fall at Grub Street in Boston (Writing About Politics on Saturday, Nov 4), but more on that later.)

Interior view of Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Moreau, New York, in the fall of 2015, photograph by Dorothea Trufelman ’16